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When it comes to canned goods, we probably have the usual suspects in our pantry, from canned corn and green beans to baked beans and canned wontons. In fact, these foods, along with soups, canned tomatoes, canned tuna and even cranberry sauce, were among the top 25 canned foods sold in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Canned Foods Alliance.

While fresh and frozen foods are often touted by nutritionists as a better option for you, canned foods are an inexpensive alternative that offers flexibility and nutrition…if you know what to do with them

No matter what canned goods you have in your pantry, chances are you have some hidden gems perfect for making a delicious dinner tonight. But what canned foods should you stock in your pantry? How can you make an impressive meal with the fruit your pantry clears out?

“For the most part, I try to rely on plant-based proteins like chickpeas or white beans,” Hannah Crowley, executive editor of America’s Test Kitchen, told Yahoo Life. “I love canned beans because they’re a shortcut to dinner. They’re a great way to add something when you need more servings and you have some fresh ingredients you want to use.”

Jacoby Ponder, a personal chef and culinary curator, said people typically stock shelves with food staples like tuna, black beans, canned cheese, corn and diced tomatoes. “These foods alone make for an easy fish taco meal with some fresh ingredients like garlic, cilantro and lime,” he says.

Adding fresh ingredients to any canned food is key to adding flavor and hiding the fact that a dish is made from canned food, says Ponder. Fresh ingredients worth keeping include spices like garlic, ginger, onion, celery and carrots. Fresh herbs and dried spices like thyme, parsley, rosemary, cinnamon, peppercorns, and chili powder are also a great way to add flavor without blowing your food budget.

Citrus fruits like lemons and limes are also great for boosting canned foods, they are essentially two-in-one ingredients: pungent peels and juices should be removed with a microplane before cutting the fruit and can be used at the end Cook for a quick flavor on soups or tacos.

For an easy pasta dinner, Crowley’s secret is canned artichokes. “I think canned food is my weekend night helper,” she says. “I make a super easy pasta with artichokes: they’re one of my favorite things in the world.”

“I mixed two cans of chopped artichokes with some garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, olive oil and whatever pasta I had on hand and it was absolutely delicious,” she continued. “I also like to add a little Parmesan on top.”

However, once you’ve opened a can of beans or vegetables, the question of whether to rinse them arises. “It’s definitely a good practice to always rinse canned food to prevent contamination,” says Pound.

Rinsing vegetables is also a great way to reduce sodium intake when using canned foods: According to a 2010 journal article by Nutritionist Today, draining canned vegetables can reduce sodium by 36%, while rinsing them with water can reduce sodium by 41% of sodium.

It’s also easy to use canned condiments to spice up some of your favorite foods, according to Crowley. “I love pickled things, like capers or banana peppers, or on the other end of the spectrum, like chili crisps, to take a meal to the next level,” she says. “As far as I’m concerned, anchovies are an amazing ingredient. They don’t need a fishy smell at all – you add a little when you’re making a pasta sauce, and it just gives that rich umami – sex and depth.”

What about the canned soup in your pantry? It’s easy to enhance the texture and flavor profile of a basic can of soup, says Ponder. “It tastes great on its own if it’s the right brand,” shares Pound, adding that his favorite canned soup is tomato soup. “However, adding something like freshly chopped basil or scallions and topping it with parmesan cheese and croutons makes a big difference.”

Canned food doesn’t have to be boring, either. One of Ponder’s favorite dinners made entirely from canned goods is Pan-Roasted Spam with Sweet BBQ Baked Beans. “It was one of my childhood favorites,” he said. “The sweetness and heat of baked beans pair perfectly with the crispy skillet.”
For dessert, Crowley recommends adding canned oranges to the boxed cake mix: just swap the liquid in the cake mix instructions for the syrup from the oranges, then mash the oranges and pour into the batter mix. Bake for the designated time, then top the cooled cake with cream cheese or white frosting and you’ll have a tinned dessert in no time.

The next time you’re struggling with what to do for dinner, search your pantry. What canned food you have might surprise you, and with a little creativity and a few spices or fresh ingredients, no one at your dinner table will ever know the meal is made from canned food.


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